Milking the COP17 cash cow

Hotels and guesthouses in Durban are out to make a killing from the United Nation’s climate change conference, COP17, which is taking place in the city in late November. Some establishments have more than doubled their tariffs for the two-week period.

A Mail & Guardian survey this week established that the five-star Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga is charging R10 250 a night for the cheapest room on its official accommodation list, or R3 250 per person. The usual rate for the hotel’s cheapest room for non-South Africans in November is R3 950 a night.

The Holiday Inn Express in Umhlanga is charging R1 628, compared with its normal November room rate of R950.
City Lodge’s rates have been increased from R873 in early November to R1 302 a room for the COP17 period.

Its stepsister, the Road Lodge, however, is offering relatively good value at R651 per room, compared with the normal rate of R474.

But, in spite of the price hikes, rooms are being snapped up. According to the official accommodation partner and booking agency for the conference, Thompsons Tours Africa, almost all hotels within striking distance of the conference, including the Southern Sun Elangeni and Coastlands, are already booked out.

Not surprisingly, the Oyster Box is an exception.

Oyster Box general manager Wayne Coetzer said the rates for COP17 were the same as the peak rates over Christmas. “The hotel is luxurious and offers great value. There are just three rooms remaining and we expect VIPs to snap them up at the last minute,” he said.

‘Suited for different pockets’
About 15 000 official delegates are expected to attend the conference from November 28 to December 9. This excludes the nongovernmental sector and members of civil society, which are expected to stage protests at the event.

Erica Gardner, the manager of Thompson Tours’s COP17 accommodation, said that the Elangeni was the first to sell out. The hotel’s 172 standard rooms were going at R1 809 a night. Gardner said that, in total, 4 000 rooms had already been filled in Durban, but there was more than enough accommodation for all those coming to the event.

“The prices are high but this is the general practice across the world,” she said. “And Durban has the variety to suit different pockets.”

She said there might be the odd exception, such as the Oyster Box, that raised its prices to more than double but, in general, prices were fair.

The Hilton, probably the nearest major hotel to Durban’s Inter­national Convention Centre where the conference will be held, was booked out by the South African government and declared a security area earlier this year.

The most expensive stay found by the M&G was at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, 38 kilometres from the centre, where the delights of the presidential suite will be a steal at R43 866 a night. The best prices are to found at guesthouses, some of which are offering packages to delegates that include transport.

Four-star guesthouse, 305 on Ipahla, on the South Coast is offering a seven-night package, including transport to and from the conference, free laundry and free Wifi, for R14 000, while the Mandalay Guesthouse in Durban is charging Christmas premium rates.

Gardner said the guesthouses were much slower than the hotels to fill up but offered good value, although they lacked premium hotel services.

“Most of the guesthouses are charging peak-season rates,” a guesthouse owner said. “You would be stupid not to. But, at the same time, it’s stupid to make your rates unaffordable, with such a variety available, and price yourself out of the market.”

A senior source in government said there was concern in official circles that accommodation during the conference was too expensive, saying that the government was engaging the tourism sector about keeping tariffs at reasonable levels.

The city of Durban has also been talking to the sector. A particular concern is that delegates from poor countries could have difficulty finding suitable accommodation and could be excluded.

Kagiso Mosue, the communications co-ordinator of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, said that businesses that were part of the organised tourism sector in and around Durban were working closely with the city and Thompsons. Mosue said city managers had negotiated with the industry ahead of bidding for the event about accommodation prices across the various segments. “One of the key outcomes of this process was agreement on approximate rates that would account for inflation,” she said.

But establishments that are not part of organised business were not be bound by these agreements.

“We are mindful that there may be businesses that are not part of the organised industry that may want to enter the market now for the sake of profiteering,” Mosue said.

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